Britain in shock over abuse death of toddler

By: AP
By: AP

LONDON (AP) -- The toddler had been visited 60 times by social workers. A doctor examined him but missed the fact he had a broken back and eight fractured ribs. His mother managed to explain away his constant bruises time and time again.

Now the 17-month-old boy known only as "Baby P" is dead - and all of Britain is aghast at the details of his short life.

Britain announced a government inquiry into just how child services failed to protect the boy, and two more infant deaths reported Thursday only increased the criticism heaped on the country's child welfare services.

The grisly details of the case - along with a computer-generated image of the boy's badly scarred face - were splashed across the front pages of Britain's leading tabloids Thursday.

The Sun newspaper said those in charge had "blood on their hands" and demanded that everyone involved be fired. The Daily Telegraph newspaper asked how a baby could "be tortured and killed in the full glare of officialdom in a country that thinks itself among the most compassionate on earth."

When opposition leader David Cameron demanded an independent inquiry into the death, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused him of playing partisan politics with the case.

"I think the whole country shares the outrage, the whole country wants to see action," Brown said after an unusually testy exchange in Parliament. As the debate intensified Wednesday, the speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, had to intervene to keep tempers in check.

The toddler was tortured for months by his mother's boyfriend and a lodger, Jason Owen, 36; they were both found guilty of causing or allowing his death. The baby's mother had pleaded guilty to the same offenses in September. The identities of the child, his mother and her boyfriend have not been revealed for legal reasons.

Haringey Council, a north London local authority, said Baby P had been on its register of vulnerable children for months before he died.

Social workers had visited the child 60 times over an eight-month period but his mother managed to persuade them that he got his injuries by knocking against fireplaces or scrapping with other toddlers. Two days before he died, a pediatrician who saw him at a child development center did not notice his broken back or fractured ribs.

Two social workers and a lawyer who worked on the case have been given formal warnings and the pediatrician faces an inquiry, but so far no one has been fired over the matter.

Two more child deaths were reported Thursday - a 2-year-old Romario Mullings-Sewell and his 3-month-old brother Delayno were stabbed in the stomach. Their mother was arrested for murder and again, the local authority admitted they knew the family needed help.

The deaths have sparked an emotional debate into child welfare in Britain. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children estimates around 35 children in England and Wales are killed each year by a parent.

"The country is right to ask why these mistakes keep happening and who is accountable. We do not think more system reform is required, but we need to improve basic practice, by training and supervising workers better," the society's chief Wes Cuell said.

In the United States, whose population is roughly six times larger, the federal government says an estimated 1,530 children died due to child abuse or neglect in 2006 - with about 75 percent of those deaths attributable to a parent.

Britain, sadly, has seen this before. Haringey Council was criticized eight years ago when 8-year-old Victoria Climbie died after social workers failed to notice she was being tortured and starved by her guardians.

The case led to a national review of child protection services.

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Associated Press Writer Raphael G. Satter contributed to this case.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects spelling of Haringey, sted Haringay; DELETES incorrect reference to mother being found guilty this week, ADDS name of lodger.)

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